Gail Schreiner and her family don't mess around when it comes to their Ravens tailgates. The Westminister residents put out a spread of 50 pieces of fried chicken and homemade deviled eggs on Monday night — and the season doesn't start for six weeks.
"This is nothing," Schreiner said. "Come during the season, when we have six tables out."
Purple-clad fans swarmed to M&T Bank Stadium to spend a warm summer evening watching their favorite players run drills and sign autographs during the first of the team's three open practices.
The $10 parking and free stadium entry makes the preseason practices accessible to those who don't want to pay what can be expensive regular-season ticket and tailgating prices.
Sheila Ross, her daughter, Kimberly Fetters, and granddaughters, Ariana and Kailey, all of Port Deposit, have never been to a game. But they said they attend every open practice — and they were among the first in line at the gate before the stadium opened.
Ariana, 10, rattled off the names of the players whose numbers she has stenciled in purple paint on her white tank-top: "Boldin, Flacco, Torrey, Rice, Suggs, Lewis, Ngata, Upshaw."
Monday was Cindy Adams' first time to M&T Bank Stadium. Her husband, Ron, has been a Baltimore football fan since his parents had Colts season tickets at Memorial Stadium.
Adams said she doesn't usually watch the games because she can hear how the Ravens are doing from Ron's reactions in the living room, but she was excited to see Jacoby Jones, whom she liked on "Dancing With the Stars."
In line nearby, Yvette James and her daughter, JaDashia, 13, who had dyed some of her braids purple, said they have been going to preseason practices when the team held them at McDaniel College in Westminister.
James, who attended every home game and several away games last year, said she thinks the Ravens will bounce back and win their second Super Bowl in three years after an 8-8 season last year that ended with Baltimore missing the playoffs.
"We're going back," she said. "We have a new coordinator, a new scheme. Last year, we ran the same plays over and over. They ran the ball every first and second down. Flacco flourishes in play-action. And we got that offensive line fixed."
The preseason practice also featured plenty of children's activities, from face painting to moon bounces.
Kaliyah Watson, 8, of Dundalk, who is a cheerleader at Deep Creek Elementary School, posed with Ravens cheerleaders in the breezeway inside the stadium.
Paige and Hunter Baldwin of Bel Air threw footballs through a hoop at a Geico promotional tent. As Paige did her impression of Ray Lewis' squirrel dance, Wendy Baldwin, her mother, said the child-friendly atmosphere was a big draw.
"I think they're more excited about that than anything — the fireworks and the chance to get an autograph," she said.
(The fireworks were cancelled later because of windy conditions.)
Jessica Markow watched as her daughter, Madalynn, 6, climbed to the top of a blow-up slide outside the stadium before the practice. Her eldest daughter, Makayla, 8, couldn't make it, but 1-year-old Alyvia smiled up at Markow as she predicted a successful season for the 2014 Ravens.
"We had ups and downs and hurt players last season," she said. "I think we'll at least make it to the playoffs."
Markow and her husband, both from the Eastern Shore, came to an open practice last year, when she was pregnant with Alyvia. When she found out only children were getting player autographs, she said, she posed for a picture with the cheerleaders instead, who rubbed her belly with their pom-poms.
While that was her first time in the stands, Markow said she stakes out her position in front of the television for every game. "I'm worse than the boys," she said.
Brandon Thomas celebrated his 6th birthday with his family at their first Ravens practice Monday. The family, who are related to second-string quarterback Tyrod Taylor, said they arrived from Bowie to get in line an hour before gates opened.
As fans arrived Monday, one of the men's restrooms near Gate B on the east side of the stadium was billowing smoke. A small fire on a floor below was put out before Baltimore firefighters arrived, Fire Department spokesman Ian Brennan said.
Inside, children and adults stopped for pictures with Captain Dee-Fense, the Ravens superfan who has been inducted into the Pro Football and ESPN Halls of Fans. Stopping constantly to smile and hold up a purple sign, he predicted he would pose for some six dozen pictures over the course of the night.
"It's the first time fans are getting together in masses," he said. "They're out to see the rookies and the new free agents, get a feel for what the team looks like. I'm excited. I'm upbeat."
As for how the team will do this year: "Ravens playoffs are like income taxes. I expect it every year."
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